In the past couple of years, the Harvard Police Department has had to pull urinals because of rotting pipes, strip carpeting after persistent flooding and rely on a limited amount of evidence storage space because of the poor conditions of its 60-year-old station.
Although the overall integrity of the building still is solid, Harvard Police Chief Mark Krause says enough is enough, and he is standing behind preliminary plans to construct a new police station.
“I certainly think it’s time,” Krause said. “This building has been a good building for us, and it’s served us well, but we would have to go somewhere else for a long period of time if we wanted to rectify everything.”
Originally built as a Loyal Order of Moose lodge in the 1950s, the building at 201 W. Front St. has served as the city’s police station for about 30 years, Krause said. The building also housed city staff until they relocated to the current City Hall building at 201 W. Diggins St. about eight years ago. Krause hopes the new building will be close to City Hall, or at least within the downtown area.
In September, the city approved a $26,800 contract with Elmhurst-based Dewberry Architects Inc. for the first phase of a three-phase design plan, which focuses on space needs and site planning.
Harvard Mayor Michael Kelly said there seems to be support from both the City Council and the public for the project.
“In the end, it made no sense from the city’s perspective to continue pouring money into a building that needs some significant work versus building a new one that’s built for policing in mind, as well as offer public space that we can utilize for City Council chambers as well as other functions,” Kelly said.
Krause said the problems with the building are primarily maintenance-related, but one of the biggest problems is that it is not water tight.
Anytime rain is anticipated, Krause said, staff needs to put a sump pump in front of the building to prevent flooding. They also sometimes have to lay sandbags if the rain is heavy enough.
Because of this, Krause said, a lot of homicide evidence, which typically is stored forever, is propped up on wooden pallets to avoid water damage.
Krause said flooding was so bad last summer that carpeting had to be pulled in the front office space, three additional offices and the break room to avoid potential mold and mildew. Epoxy flooring then was laid over the exposed tile as a minor remedy. Fans and dehumidifiers also are on standby to mitigate any moisture.
“With something like that, you worry about fixing one problem and creating a bunch of others,” Krause said. “It’s been carpeted since it was built, but if you do too much, you worry about things like asbestos abatement.”
About four years ago, Krause said, a pipe burst in the evidence room, requiring all of the evidence to be relocated. But because of the chain of custody, none of it could be out in the open, and only Krause had the authority to move it.
Rotten plumbing pipes also have forced officers to pull urinals in the staff’s private bathroom after the smell of urine overwhelmed the building.
“It was flushing into a void in the wall,” Krause said.
The second floor of the building is used for City Council meetings, and although there is an elevator, Kelly said the space is not conducive for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Harvard City Administrator Dave Nelson said that in the past two years, there only has been one instance of a meeting attendee requiring assistance, but the city will accommodate any request for aid.
Because the station was not designed as a public facility, Krause said, there are some amenities he would like to see in a new building, such as a sally port to help with transporting people who have been arrested.
He also would like a new station to be accommodating for a diversified workforce.
“We have a female records clerk and officer, and they’re not excited about having to use a single-use bathroom,” Krause said.
Although the station isn’t overflowing, Krause said, there is not much space left for evidence. Drug evidence is placed in a storage room in the center of the building, but Krause said that type of evidence should be in a ventilated area.
Walls also are paper thin, which can lead to problems when multiple suspects are detained because the interview room is in close proximity to the station’s holding cell, Krause said.
He stressed that the police department is seeking a functional space, not a “Taj Mahal” station.
Kelly said the project would require a bond issuance, but because of available reserve funding for capital improvement projects to help offset the bond payments, there should be no net increase for Harvard taxpayers.
Nelson said the city has about $100,000 in capital improvements funds for the project, but it is anticipating having about $1 million when the time comes to begin paying off any bond debt.